Featuring on Current: What do we look for? -- [Editorial Guidelines]
Earlier today one of our community members raised a question that immediately reminded me of a drafted post sitting in my to-do pile. So I dusted this sucker off and refreshed it with some new information for all to read.
Over on the announcement of our new submission tool, 02 commented:
"You guys never put my submissions up at all. It would seem as though a plan were afoot to force only designated providers - while the promise is held as Bullshit."
This isn't a anything new; in general people get a little confused when it comes to what gets featured on Current.com. It's not uncommon to find out that people either don't understand, or worse, their misunderstanding leads them to believe that there is a secret agenda conspiring against them behind-the-scenes.
Trust me, this is just not the case.
Our editorial team is relatively small on Current.com, especially in comparison with some of the more editorially driven sites out there. We see Current.com as a joint partnership between our internal team, and the community that frequents the site. While we produce content for TV, the amount of content we produce for the web is fairly small in comparison with what our community produces on a daily basis.
Here's how things shake out:
Each channel on Current.com has a corresponding online producer who is responsible for featuring content and producing content via blog posts and original video. If you don't know them yet, here's the list:
Each channel has an editorialized section called a playlist. The playlist is at the top of the channel, and the first story in the playlist is featured on the homepage (in the first slot of the corresponding channel module). I've posted about this before, so get the full breakdown here.
I manage this team, and together with some off hours help from the online community team we editorialize the featured sections on the Current.com homepage and the channels with a combination of community submitted stories and original Current content. When it comes to up-to-the-minute news and stories we look to you guys, the Current community. But I'm sure it would help considerably to understand what we look for exactly when featuring content. How do we make our decisions? What goes into the process?
When we pick stories for featuring, we look at a combination of things including: interesting-ness, popularity, relevance, and trending. These can seem fairly vague, so let me explain:
These are stories that are potentially under reported, but have unique angle that could spark worthwhile discussions.
These are ongoing mainstream stories that are also picking up page views, comments, and votes on Current. We take a look at these and determine which ones to feature throughout the day.
As expected, stories get repeatedly submitted from different sources outside of Current. When we find a story that is feature worthy, we consider whether or not the story is still relevant (timely), and we also take a look at the overall submissions on Current while asking the following questions:
Is this the first version of the story?
Is there a newer version of this story that has updates, developments, or new information?
Sometimes a story on Current is not popular with the mainstream crowd, but is picking up steam on Current via discussion, page views, and votes. We identify this trend and feature these stories.
Ok, this covers how we recognize stories in the system, but what about the barebones requirements for a story in order to be featured? Specifically, a story needs a title and a description to be submitted, but depending upon how you support your story may or may not include a piece of media (image, video, etc.) If a story doesn't have media, we can't feature it.
If you pick a source without media, you could always pick something from the Creative Commons on Flickr (be sure to abide by Creative Commons licenses and give credit back to the photographer wherever applicable) or you could simply record a quick webcam and upload that with a link to the source in your story description.
Additionally, some sources are quite simply better than others. If you submit a blog post from an unknown source with no links to factual research, you'll be less likely to get featured when compared to a story with deep links and research to back up the story.
So, now that you have an idea about how we pick stories for featured spots on Current, let's look at 02's latest submission from 10 days ago. Here are the details:
Anthropologist Peter McAllister: "The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male."
This is a great story, and definitely could have been feature worthy based on interesting-ness given a couple circumstances. It doesn't fall into the popular designation, but that's OK. We love unique stories.
Where it gets the hook is in the relevance department. You see the same story was already submitted to Current by another community member. Here's a search on the last name "McAllister" (sorted by most recent).
As you can see, remanns version of the story preceded 02's by 5 days. If any version of the story were to be featured, it would've been remanns version because the two stories contain identical information.
As it turns out, neither version of the story was actually featured, and this has to do with the trending portion of our process. Discussion on these two stories never really picked up, and both had relatively low votes and page views. When compared to other stories trending in the system at the time, both were seconded to other stories submitted that were a better fit with our featuring designations.
There are a whole slew of variables that play into this process which can only add to the confusion for some of you out there. Here are some commonly asked questions:
Q: "I see <$user>'s stories featured ALL. THE. TIME. Admit it, you play favorites."
I really wish there were an easy way to convey this to everyone, but the simple fact is that the more active (and attentive to breaking news) a community member is, the more likely their stories will be featured. Volume and timing is everything.
We actively go out of our way consider stories from new or underrepresented members of the community. If you're a rock star at finding stories before everyone else, I'd ask that you share your tips with the rest of the crowd. Find someone in the community who isn't commonly featured and give them some pointers.
Additionally, if you're finding yourself on the short end of the stick as far as featuring is concerned, look to some of the regular faces you see in the featured spots. Go ahead, message them, ask them for pointers, or just make a friend.
One thing is certain, the more you put into the system on a regular basis, the more likely you'll find yourself featured on the homepage.
Q: "Why do you guys push all content down that doesn't fall in line with your agenda?"
It's easy to believe that something like this is true, but it's just not in line with reality. First, we don't have an agenda in play when selecting stories. We routinely hang all personal biases up at the door with our coats when we come into work. True, we select stories to feature based on the criteria I listed before, but we do not actively push content down in popularity. Period.
There are typically two reasons why content appears to be pushed down:
It is voted down by the community.
It is improperly added to groups that it shouldn't be. For example, a story about marijuana legalization added to News, Music, Movies, Green, Tech, and Comedy will commonly get removed from Music, Movies, Green, Tech, and Comedy.
Q: "I added this story already, why isn't mine featured?"
Many times this can come down some of our minimum requirements.
As I mentioned before, there are times when a story has newly developing information, or there has been an update to the larger story (different angle, etc.). In these cases we will feature a newer version of the story, tweak the title of the original post (depending upon whether or not the story is still relevant), or unfeature it altogether if neither option works. If you are an avid contributor to Current.com, there could be cases where you are already featured for one story, and we wish to feature another story that you also happened to submit before anyone else. In these cases we might make an exception and feature another lesser known community member despite your story being technically first.
Q: "You changed my title, what gives?"
In previous posts I've mentioned that we will update headlines to meet AP Style, but on occasion we also need to actually re-word a title because a story has changed and no new story has been published to reflect the change, the title is just plain wrong, or the title leaves out key information about the discussion/story submitted. In these cases we always reach out to the original poster and notify them of the change via comment on the item (so everyone else can see) or via private message.
Q: "I thought featured stories were for news, why is [enter story type here] featured? I demand it be pulled!"
This is one question that will not go away, but I'll state again that "Current Stories" (on the Current.com homepage) is not strictly dedicated to news content. If it's news you want, then Current News is the place to be. Make it your homepage, and you'll never be the wiser to the varied mix of stories in "Current Stories." For those of you who don't mind the occasional crunch berry in your Capt. Crunch, you'll find that we feature a variety of stories ranging from recent episodes or sneak peeks of Current TV content alongside any story that meets our featuring criteria on Current regardless of type or group.
Q: "So, with all of these online producers blogging and producing video, does that mean Current is less about community contributions now?"
No, not at all. Our online producers are here to provide a bit of direction in some ways, while making sure that areas like News are not overrun with Britney Spears-style news. In addition, some of our more tradition aspects of community contribution will be making their way into each channel as time goes on.
For example, The Rotten Tomatoes Show is closely aligned with Movies, and the show is largely comprised of community webcam reviews of the prior week's releases. If you want to participate and potentially get on TV, well then Current Movies is the place to hang out. John is also brewing up a Current Movies-specific plan involving written movie reviews, so keep an eye out for that as well.
Shana just posted about Common's video pick from the "Make Common's Day" call out on the Current Music blog. This was sort of like a hybrid between a VCAM and a VC2 piece, where producers created a video for Common using greenscreen footage he shot while visiting the Current offices in LA.
Andrew is prepping to embark on a deep Current News investigation that will include REQUIRE the participation of news-minded community members both on and off Current.com in order to be successful. He's finalizing the topic for the investigation, and a look at some of his recent blog posts will clue you into the direction that's taking shape. When this is fully underway, he'll lay out the details on the Current News blog.
Lastly, when these folks blog they are pulling from both community contributions on Current AND content from our TV network. Think of these blog posts as our online playground where you're guys' content gets married to Current TV content -- all contextualized under trends going on in our world.
And most importantly, Current community members are the key to making it all happen.
So, there it is in a nutshell. I hope this helps explain some of the question you, and others, may have about the site. We're going to be doing a lot of growing over the next few months, and we want you along for the ride. As always, shoot feedback and recommendations our way via comments here or posts on Get Satisfaction.
Thanks for reading and contributing.